Great moments in PC gaming: Server-first boss kills in early World of Warcraft

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

World of Warcraft

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Year: 2004
Developer: Blizzard

It's funny what your mind chooses to remember. I barely recall a thing about what I was working on for my soon-to-be-abandoned PhD in the early months of 2005, but I recall the night of March 25 as though it were yesterday. Huddled on the side of a mountain in World of Warcraft's Tainted Scar, my guild slew the newly spawned world boss Lord Kazzak for the first time on the Alleria server while many of the server's players watched in awed dejection. Drunk on that victory, that same night we ventured into the lair of the dragon Onyxia and killed her for the first time as well. We were Risen, and that night we realized we were great. The evening kicked off a long tradition of scoring most of Alleria's server-first boss kills that spanned a couple of years, and in time that momentum would land us a handful of world-firsts as well.

No other game or group has given me that kind of satisfaction. Server-first boss kills still happen in WoW's fresh content, of course, but back then you were almost always going in blind. Strategy guides and wikis usually didn't exist, so victory demanded a herculean combination of coordination, dedication, and creativity. The resulting experimentation occasionally led to some comical moments, such as when my guild leader figured that maybe Blizzard wanted us to tank the firelord Ragnaros with a hunter. That didn't end so well. Even so, we were proud of our failures because failure forced us to think harder. (Fittingly, my guild leader's name was Failure.)

Information about boss mechanics is far more readily available these days, and so killing a boss relies more on mastering a known and intended strategy rather than exploring creative approaches. It's a bit like learning a dance. Modern WoW even has a guide detailing all of a boss's abilities built right into the interface itself. Back then, even if a guild wasn't at the forefront of progression like we were, they guarded their strategies closely.

It was beautiful, being at the vanguard of all that. I've yet to find another group that worked together as well as Risen did. It helped justify logging in almost every night when other people were watching TV, seeing real-life friends or, ahem, dating. It made it easier to believe reports that people were listing their WoW guild membership on resumes as proof of their ability to work with or lead a team. And yes, it did sometimes feel like work, but work that occasionally yielded more satisfaction than my career. In that age before server transfers, everyone on Alleria knew who we were, and some players beyond, as well.

Did it have its drawbacks? Oh, sure. Our commitment to nabbing as many server firsts as possible meant other guilds never really got the chance to do the same, particularly with open-world bosses like Kazzak. When the Dragons of Nightmare dropped in October of 2005, we kept other groups from killing them for months, even to the point of calling each other up at 3.00 a.m. when one had spawned. Had to get everyone their nature resistance gear for Ahn'Qiraj, you know? Some people hated us for that. OK, maybe quite a few.

I don't think we'll ever see something like that in an MMO again. The internet has matured, strategies go live when content is still in beta, and YouTube and streaming throw any attempts at secrecy out the window. It's part of the reason why I can't bring myself to get into Classic WoW. All of these bosses were figured out 15 years before, and at a time when Blizzard's MMO was a more potent cultural force than it is now. 

I can see some of the appeal for players who were too young for early World of Warcraft, but there's no surprise, no need for experimentation, and for me, at least, the whole business leaves behind an unpleasant aftertaste of historical reenactment. 

I'll forever be thankful I was part of the actual history.